Calgary Flames prospect Axel Hurtig is a fascinating project in the pipeline
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike1 month ago
When teams reach the later rounds of the NHL Draft, each draft class is a little lean and the more developed, polished players have already been selected. It’s been said that in the late rounds teams are looking for players that are the proverbial diamonds in the rough.
The Calgary Flames selected big-bodied blueliner Axel Hurtig in the seventh round in the 2023 NHL Draft. He didn’t crack FlamesNation‘s annual top 20 prospect rankings, but when you look at his body of work so far, you can understand why the Flames think he’s got a lot of potential.
Listed at 6’4″ and 203 pounds, Hurtig is a left shot defenceman from Hogas, Sweden. His father, Bjarne, played defence at the pro level in Sweden for over a decade, and Axel’s older brother, Arvid, is a 20-year-old blueliner who’s in the system of the Vaxjo Lakers of the SHL.
By all counts Hurtig’s been a kid with a big frame for awhile, and in part because of his physical maturity, he’s played well above his age bracket for the past few seasons. (He’s played the past couple seasons in the Rögle BK system.)
- In his 14-year-old season (2019-20) and 15-year-old season (2020-21), he split each year between under-16 and under-18 leagues.
- In his 16-year-old season (2021-22), he split the year between the under-18 (30 games) and under-20 (16 games) leagues.
- In his 17-year-old season (2022-23), he split the year between the under-18 (8 games) and under-20 (34 games) leagues, and represented Sweden at the men’s under-18 World Championship and the World Junior-A Challenge.
Hurtig projects as a shutdown defender, using his size and mobility to quiet the other team’s offensive weapons. He played on a pairing with Tom Willander for big chunks of the Swedish season, serving as the defensive compliment to Willander’s up-tempo, offensive game. Willander went 11th overall to Vancouver, while Hurtig went 208th overall – 16th-from-last – to the Flames.
Hurtig suffered a shoulder injury during the Under-18s in the spring and underwent surgery following the completion of the tournament.
Here’s what Flames director of amateur scouting Tod Button said about Hurtig on the draft floor in Nashville:
“Axel Hurtig, he’s a guy, he was probably the eighth or ninth defenceman on the Swedish under-18 team. And then through injuries and being able to play a little bit more, as the year went on we started to pay more attention to him and we liked him a little more, and by the 18s he was playing full-time in the top four. He’s a bit of a project, but he’s got a great demeanour. He’s a physical defenceman but he’s really strong in his own end and now we need to get him to branch out and add to his skillset. We got four years on him now because he’s a European, so we’re happy about getting a bit of a project there. But he’s got a really, really solid defensive base and physical base that he can build off of.”
Hurtig was selected by the Calgary Hitmen in the CHL’s annual import draft. The Hitmen opened up an import spot on their roster by releasing Czech defender Vojtech Husinecky shortly after the import draft. If Hurtig came over to North America, the Flames would have a great chance to work directly with him on his development – and they’d still have until June 1, 2027 to sign him to an NHL contract.
However, with Hurtig coming off a fairly significant off-season surgery, it’s yet to be determined where he’ll play next season. All that’s known for sure is his recovery will spill over a little ways into the season, but it’s unclear precisely when he’ll be ready to play.
At development camp in July, Flames general manager Craig Conroy updated Hurtig’s status:
“We’re still talking with him and his people, but excited to have the Hitmen draft him and an opportunity for him to come over,” said Conroy. “But with the shoulder injury we’ve still kinda go through and see where he feels most comfortable. Obviously we want to do what’s right for him, but to have him over here and be able to work with our NHL people, especially with the injury, I think that would be a positive but we also want to do what’s best for him and his family.”
If Hurtig stays in Sweden, he’ll likely be a regular with Rögle’s junior team once again and possibly push for some SHL spot duty here and there. If he comes to the WHL, he’ll need to adjust to the smaller ice in North America, but he’ll be in the same building as the Flames’ development staff and it could potentially aid in his ongoing development. We’ll see where he ends up.
Hurtig was a seventh-round pick, but he boasts size and defensive acumen. If he can continue to develop his mobility and offensive abilities, he could be a big value find for the Flames late in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Recent articles from Ryan Pike